FACT CHECK: Say what? As campaign heats up, campaign pronouncements become odd

Friday, March 23, 2012 | 10:35 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — Silly-season pollen seems to have infected the campaign trail.

On the Democratic side, the excitable Vice President Joe Biden made the jaw-dropping claim that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was unsurpassed in its audacity by anything that has happened since the 16th century — that's right, for 500 years.

Among Republicans, a punchy Rick Santorum declared that President Barack Obama's health care law makes the life of every single American dependent on the government.


However far-reaching, the law is neither life-giving, nor health-destroying, and most Americans probably won't feel a thing.

Mitt Romney, for his part, continued to blame Obama for banning old-fashioned light bulbs even after it was pointed out that Republican George W. Bush was the president who made the decision crowding those energy-wasters from the market. That was somewhat audacious, though not in the ballpark of the night-time raid on the lair of bin Laden.

Then again, nothing is in that ballpark, as Biden sees it.

A sampling of recent weird claims from the Republican presidential nomination race and the awakening Democratic campaign to re-elect Obama:

Biden on the bin Laden raid

"You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there." — At a Morris Township, N.J., Democratic fundraiser Monday.

The facts

Pick your audacity for the ages. A partial list of awfully bold and odds-defying plans of the last 500 years to stack beside the bin Laden raid for comparison:

  • George Washington's nighttime crossing of the Delaware River in December 1776, capturing 1,000 prisoners with fewer than a dozen casualties in his own army, in a watershed for the American Revolution.
  • Any number of daring feints and bloody raids of the Civil War.
  • Dec. 7, 1941, the sneak assault on Pearl Harbor by more than 350 Japanese planes that killed more than 2,400 people, decimated the Pacific Fleet and drew the U.S. into war.
  • June 6, 1944, D-Day, the surprise landing of 160,000 Allied troops on the massively fortified shores of Normandy, France, supported by 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft — a "nothing less than full victory" gambit that unleashed armies on a march across Europe to crush Nazi Germany.
  • The Sept. 11, 2001, destruction of the World Trade Center, damaging of the Pentagon, downing of four airliners and deaths of nearly 3,000 people, at the hands of hijackers with knives, set loose by bin Laden's al-Qaida.

Biden's remark has prompted a U.S. Naval Institute blog to build a list of 500 audacious acts over 500 years — many with a seafaring flavor, given the contributors. Astonishing acts of courage, or foolishness, are recounted, some lost to the memory of all but the most ardent history buffs: British sailors paddling canoes into a Norwegian fjord to attach mines to the German battleship Tirpitz was one.

In 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez personified the audacity of hope when, after landing his men on the shores of Mexico, he ordered his ships burned, beached or scuttled so there could be no turning back. His invaders pressed on to defeat the Aztec empire.

Santorum on Obamacare

"After and if Obamacare is implemented, every single American will depend upon the federal government for something that is critical, their health and their life." — Pennsylvania speech Tuesday night after losing the Illinois primary.

The facts

Except for Santorum's point that people's lives are critical to them, the statement is problematic. The health care law sets up no new dependency on the government. To be sure, the law provides federal aid so more than 30 million uninsured can get coverage. But that doesn't equate to dependence, any more than tax breaks for home ownership or getting a college education do. Most Americans will continue to get their insurance through their employer. They might or might not find their insurance cheaper, depending on whether the law succeeds in curbing costs, but they are not becoming wards of the state. Older Americans already depend on the government for Medicare, as they have for nearly a half-century.

Romney on Obama administration's strangling of innovators

"And the government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb. Oh, that's right. They just did." — Speaking Tuesday night after winning the Illinois primary.

The facts

In 2007, Bush signed the law requiring bulbs to use less electricity, an act for which Romney blames Obama. The standards do not ban the traditional incandescent bulb but require a higher level of efficiency than the old generation of them can achieve, making them passé to produce anymore when far more efficient alternatives are available.

The law only became contentious after its enactment, as some conservatives seized on it as an example of overreaching government. At the time, the legislation was passed with bipartisan support and enacted with praise by the Republican president.

In an economic speech Monday, Romney explicitly accused "Obama's regulators" of banning the bulb. The Washington Post called him on it.

On Tuesday night, Romney still unmistakably cast Obama as the bad guy in asserting that the government "just did" ban the bulb and in saying that pioneers such as Edison and the Wright Brothers would have had a hard time inventing "under Barack Obama."

Last year, four of Edison's descendants endorsed the new standards and said the great inventor would have been opposed to politicians trying to hang on to an outdated light bulb.

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Jonathan Hopfenblatt March 23, 2012 | 3:02 p.m.

I have no idea why so many people don't care that politicians routinely get away with spewing complete nonsense--if not outright lies. Even people who know it's all bunch of crap give 'em a pass, just because they happen to be in the same political party. "So yeah, he has no grasp of history whatsoever/he didn't bother to ask his campaign minions to google stuff about recent light-bulb legislation, but who cares? All that matters is that we loosely agree on the issues. Go candidate!"

I wouldn't be surprised if Romney et al. got standing ovations for those statements either, even though audience members themselves could have fact-checked his claims almost instantly and called him out on it.

(p.s. Biden's statement was so stupid it didn't need to be fact-checked, hence why I started with Romney. So no, this wasn't directed at only conservatives/Republicans.)

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